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Mindful : August 2017
Eighteen adults are seated in a semi-circle, each inspecting two inky-blue raisins as if they hold the keys to the Kabbalah. The dehydrated grapes are individually ogled and caressed, passed before nostrils and pressed across lips, then crushed by molars, lashed by tongues, and finally sent southward. Shortly thereafter the group divides into pairs, each partner recounting, in succession, their experiences: the tactile sensations and the fruits’ physical attributes, the aromas and the anticipation of eating, the squirting juice and the memories unleashed of breads or bakeries. This exercise, we were instructed, should be done without judgment; it’s a two-minute monolog ue with no right or wrong observa- tions, absorbed, in turn, without emotion or interruption. But when my cohort finishes, I sheepishly proclaim her narrative to have been the more compelling, and my rant about the unexpected seed in one raisin mortifying. What I don’t reveal is that despite being forewarned to acknowledge and dismiss distracting thoughts, I’d been fixated on the fear that my raisins, with their shriveled skins and freakish striations, were miniaturized replicas of my withering prostate, which by the way has been so trauma- tized by my rock-hard chair I’d like to heave it through the window. Thus begins my class in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, not a moment too soon. This eight-week program, which combines mind- fulness meditation with yoga, was developed in 1979 by Jon Kabat-Zinn. In essence, MBSR training provides the tools to inhabit the present moment and, in so doing, unleash one’s innate abilities to better manage stress and illness. It sounds simple, but achieving a state of relaxed wakefulness proves formidable for some classmates: When we’re taught to perform a toes-to-head “body scan,” focusing in sequence on individual regions, by hip level there’s snor- ing from the foam mats around the room. Repeating this 20-minute drill, and applying its whole-body awareness throughout the day, is at the heart of our first week’s assignments. This poses challenges, as I’m now to substitute this practice for Transcendental Meditation, which I’ve faithfully done for more than four decades. So when I start the instructional CD the next morning, it feels like awakening after 16 years as a vegan to an Egg McMuffin. But I do as instructed, because in truth, I really have no choice. Introduction to mindfulness, along with the basics of the body scan meditation and mindful breathing and eating. WEEK 01 Raisin D’être meditation